Alright alright, let’s talk meal planning and grocery and all of the food things! First, read the ground rules. All set? Great!
We’ve been following the same food rhythms for nearly four years now. It works great for us, and you guys have asked lots of questions regarding. I’ll try to hit all of the main points but as always, but feel free to email!
I meal plan on Saturdays. I use Pinterest and a pretty notebook. The hope is that someday, my very-grown kids will stumble upon the notebook and flip through their childhood menus in weekly chronological order, remembering me fondly as they recognize my slightly-awkward-but-very-neat handwriting.
No, but seriously, I use a new page for each week and date it at the top. I write down the menu for dinner each night, and list the ingredients below. I loosely stick to a goal of one easy meal per week, one meat-free meal per week, and one new meal per week. Ever since we did Whole30 a few years ago, I feel zero pressure to serve carbs (or even three items) with each meal. Sometimes, it’s just a meat and a green. There is always at least one vegetable.
The planning process takes only an hour tops, but sometimes I drag it out. I may start it Saturday morning, and pick it back up during an afternoon on the couch or before bed. I regularly ask the kids and Chris for feedback. I like Pinterest because I can search using ingredients I already have, or even a vibe or category of food I’m in the mood to try. I write the menu on a chalkboard in the kitchen and the whole family really thrives with the routine. The goal for planning is to know exactly what we’re going to eat every night of the week, which should complement our family’s schedule.
I make the official list on Sunday afternoons using Wunderlist. Chris and I run through the fridge and the pantries one more time, adding any staples to the list that are running low. We shop as a family on Sunday evenings, just before bedtime. This is when stores seem the least crowded and we’re most likely to be struck with the Sunday blues.
We shop at three places around town, which allows us to get everything we need for the entire week. Our main spots are Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and a typical regional grocery store (Harris Teeter). Our weekly household budget is $300, but this includes things like toilet paper and soap or a random school supply and my crazy-expensive probiotics. We typically spend right around $200 each week on food. This covers six dinners per week, and then a general supply of breakfast and lunch and snack food. Our budget allows us to eat out once per week, but you can read more about that here. The goal for shopping on Sunday nights is to prevent random stop-ins at stores throughout the week.
Both Chris and I cook, depending on who’s home during the two hours leading up to dinner. We eat around the dining room table most nights, but sometimes in a pile on the floor in the kitchen. We try to eat every night at 6pm. This is the only time throughout the week that we slow down and connect, and it’s very important to us. We protect it fiercely. Whoever is in the house is expected to join. Guests are always allowed, even with little or no heads-up. For some reason, there’s always enough to go around. Phones are not allowed at the table.
We do not offer anything outside of what’s on the menu for dinner. If the kids don’t eat it, they go straight to bed after we’re done. They don’t have to eat seconds, but they have to finish what we serve them. If it’s questionable, we give them a very small serving. Nobody leaves the table until everyone is done, and everyone helps clear the table. All of our children help with dishes and wiping down the table. We don’t own a dishwasher, and Chris won’t let us get one. He says he’s had the best conversations of his life with his kids over a soapy sink.
We’ve gone all organic before, and we’ve also bought a ton of cheap and processed foods to save money. Right now, we focus on whole foods and healthy options but we aren’t going to go broke in the name of organic. If it come from the ground, we’re happy to eat it. We try to restrict the amount of refined sugar and dairy that we consume. We drink almond milk and coconut creamer, but you can find yogurt squeezers and cheese in our fridge. Our meat is the highest-quality we can get, but we also eat a lot of tofu and beans.
There is one section of our kitchen that is fair game for the kids to eat at any time, the corner that holds the fruit basket and the jars full of Trader Joe’s bars. The little ones need to ask beforehand, but we typically say yes. Both are great options for growing children to grab a quick snack without a battle. This area is also where we keep their water bottles. We only buy juice for special occasions.
Meals we frequently make: tofu/rice/broccoli/seaweed snacks, taco salad, spaghetti/salad, beans/rice bar, neat combinations with wanton cups, zuppa toscana, BBQ sammies/broccoli, grilled chicken/anything, beef/veggie stew, sweet potato chili, and a wide variety of salads.
For breakfast, we do a lot of eggs. The chickens keep us well stocked! We also keep basic cereal and oatmeal in the house. For lunch, we eat a lot of finger foods like turkey roll-ups, pickles, plantain chips, and fruits and veggies. Dessert isn’t every night, but we typically serve the little kids a small cookie treat and the big folks like popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. We get all of our sweets from Trader Joe’s.
It may sound silly, but we take this stuff seriously. As a follower of Jesus, we feel called to steward everything we’ve been given – our bodies, our time, our money, and our habits. This means that quite frankly, I ain’t got time to stress about what’s for dinner. I want to make as much room as possible in my brain and heart for the Spirit’s leading and the work of the Kingdom of God. It’s incredible how much more margin we have when we already know what we’re eating, when we’re shopping, and how much we’re spending.
Hope this helps. Happy meal planning, food shopping, and eating to you!